August 15, 2016

Open Letter to President Barack Obama and Governor Jerry Brown: Wasted Water, Wasted Opportunity

President Obama and Governor Brown,

Thousands of California farmers today feel like the mythological Cassandra, daughter of the King of Troy. Her beauty caught the eye of Apollo, who felt compelled to give the princess a gift – the ability to see the future. However, when Apollo’s love for her was unrequited, the Greek god cursed Cassandra so that no one would believe her prophecies. Thus, she was forced to live the rest of her days knowing the tragedies to come, yet powerless to change the course of events.

Earlier this year, Western Growers released a video urgently calling on the agencies you direct to capture and store as much of the El Niño storm runoff as possible. We predicted that continued insistence on diversion of excess runoff to the sea would lead to a missed opportunity for California to at least partially recover from the ongoing drought. We also sent letters to Congress and you, Governor Brown, urging the establishment of legislative and regulatory protocols to maximize the delivery of storm runoff to storage facilities south of the Delta.

Despite our pleas and the cries of many others in Central and Southern California, your agencies refused to listen. Like Cassandra, this must be our curse.

As a consequence, San Luis Reservoir – the critical water storage site for San Joaquin Valley farms and cities, and more than 60 percent of the nation’s fresh fruits and tree nuts – now holds just 10 percent of its 2 million acre-feet capacity, lower than at any point in the last 25 years. In water parlance, it is at “dead pool,” unable to deliver any water at all.

This is in spite of a wet winter that filled many Northern California reservoirs to the point that managers had to spill large amounts of water to make room for late spring runoff.  

Instead of smartly directing excess water during storm flows from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into San Luis Reservoir, your agencies insisted on the same scientifically-unjustified and morally-indefensible path. How is it that some California homeowners can be fined for watering their yards on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, yet the government faces no judgment or penalty for intentionally flushing billions of gallons of flood runoff out to the ocean?

Since the beginning of the year, more than one million acre-feet (340 billion gallons) of water has been lost, purposely allowed to flow past the pumps that could have redirected it to San Luis Reservoir and, from there, the many other reservoirs in Southern California that were not filled the way northern reservoirs were. Keep in mind, this was not water needed to satisfy the shaky scientific logic of the smelt and salmon biological opinions. This was water that was lost due to the refusal of your agencies to operate the Delta pumps at the upper ranges of the environmental limits.

Yet the madness continues. Your agencies are proposing to dump another 200,000 acre-feet of water into the sea before the end of this summer, with another 250,000 acre-feet scheduled for next summer. At the risk of sharing Cassandra’s plight again, let me make another prophecy: These proposed releases will do nothing to save the smelt – which many fish biologists believe will be extinct soon regardless – but will further punish Central Valley family farms and rural communities.

The continued regulatory mismanagement of California’s water threatens to drive out farmers – and hundreds of thousands of employees whose livelihood depends on those farmers – from the most productive agricultural region in the world. Not only would the fallout be damaging to the regional and state economy, it could have serious national security implications, as well. The gap in food production would likely be made up by foreign producers. Is it strategically wise to cede control of our food supply to other countries?

As I conclude my letter, I call your attention once again to the story of Cassandra. The Trojans failed to heed her now infamous words prior to the fall of Troy: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” Do not subject agriculture in California to a similar fate.



Tom Nassif
President & CEO
Western Growers